The Bride asks Dodi where he pastures the flock and where he finds shade at noon because she doesn’t want to be like those women who veil themselves beside the flocks (Song of Songs 1:7). The reasoning is obscure. Let’s see if we can unravel it a bit.

She implies that if she doesn’t know where to find him, she will be as one covered. What does that mean?

The verb “cover” ( ‘atah) is used for the leper’s covering of his lip. He is unclean, and covering the lip, along with his unkempt clothes, is a sign of his being an outcast (Leviticus 13:45; cf. “covering the lips” in mourning in Ezekiel 24:17, 22; Micah 3:7). In some Psalms, the Psalmists asks that the Lord cover enemies with reproach, shame, and cursing (Psalm 71:13; 89:45; 109:19, 29). The verb is not necessarily negative: Yahweh covers Himself with light as with a garment (Psalm 104:2). Yahweh puts on His armor, and this includes being covered with zeal as a cloak (Isaiah 59:17). Coverings can be glory-coverings or they can be shame-covering. The Bride is talking about a shame-covering. She would be clothed in some sort of reproach if he doesn’t disclose where he pastures and lies, where she can lie with him so as to be his pasture.

Why would she be reproached and shamed and perhaps be an outcast if she doesn’t know his place? Perhaps we can anticipate a later episode in the Song when she again asks “where”? In 1:7, she asks “where?” twice ( ‘aykah ); in 6:1 the daughters of Jerusalem twice ask where Dodi has gone ( ‘anah ). Besides that connection, the two passages are connected by the phrase “most beautiful among women,” spoken by the Lover in 1:8 and twice by the daughters of Jerusalem in 5:9 and 6:1.

In that later episode, the Bride is in the streets searching for Dodi, who has been at her door and the left her. She wanders the streets looking for him, and this time cannot find him. She searches and cannot find. And the guardians of the city beat her and strip off her veil ( radiyd ), leaving her “covered” with shame. If she seeks the lover and cannot come to him directly, she is afraid that she will be reproached. There might be a hint that the covering she would have to don is the covering of a prostitute, because she would be like the Harlot Lady Folly wandering around pursuing a man. The reproach might be: If Dodi loves you, wouldn’t you know where to find him?

Here as often the Song makes more immediate sense at an allegorical or typological level. Suppose this is Israel appealing to Yahweh. Israel longs to be with her Good Shepherd. She longs to be in His pasture, to have Him lead her to rich pastures. She longs to lie down and rest and find Sabbath in His presence. She wants to be beside the still waters, where her soul can be nourished, the soul that longs for the One she loves.

But she wants to know where He will be. He is not under her control. He is not always immediately accessible. If He doesn’t disclose His location, Israel will never know where she can meet Him. She wants to meet Him so that she is not clothed with reproach for seeking a God who never comes to her, a God whom she can’t find. She wants to know His placement because she has too often sung the Psalms: Where is your God? (Psalm 42:10; 79:10; 115:2). She knows the desperation of Psalm 89: “Where are your former lovingkindnesses, O Lord?”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...